Nine years ago, Manchester United signed 16-year-old Adnan Januzaj from Anderlecht after impressing in a skills session in Brussels, Belgium. After a seemingly glittering career in the academy at United, Januzaj was promoted to the first team during the 2012/13 season, which was also Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season at the club before retirement.
Januzaj never featured inn the first team for Ferguson but was an unused substitute in his final game as United manager, a 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. For his performances for the then U21s, now the U23s, Januzaj was awarded the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award for the 2012/13 season.
Under the management of David Moyes, despite this being his ill-fated season at the Old Trafford club, Januzaj kept his place in the first team squad, playing in the pre-season tour of Asia, scoring in the final tour match against Kitchee. In Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial at Old Trafford, Januzaj started, assisting United’s only goal in the 3-1 defeat to Sevilla.
In his debut season at the club, which was also his best in terms of bringing something to the team, Januzaj played 35 times in all competitions, scoring four goals and six assists – United only won the FA Community Shield that season, seeing Moyes sacked at Easter time and finishing seventh in the Premier League – the worst season to date.
Ryan Giggs was the caretaker manager for the final four matches of the season with Louis van Gaal installed as the permanent manager during the summer, prior to the 2014/15 season, which needed to be a good one for United. Januzaj only played 21 times that season, failing to score a single goal or assist, at least in the first team.
Januzaj was loaned to Borussia Dortmund for the 2015/16 season, but after 12 appearances for the club, with no goals and three assists to his name, his loan spell was ended on the 6 January 2016 and he returned to United. He played seven times for United, scoring one goal and it was starting to look like the end of the road for the player at United.
During the 2016/17 season, Januzaj was loaned to Sunderland for the entire season, linking up with Moyes. Despite playing 28 times for the first team, the Belgian scored just one goal, assisting three times for the club. It was clear that Moyes rated the player but his lack of performances on loan would not keep him at United.
In the summer of 2017, Januzaj signed a five-year contract with La Liga side Real Sociedad. It was a shame to see another bright youngster leave United, especially after periods of promise. With United still reeling from the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo at the time he broke through into the first team, with some comparisons at the time, many were let down.
In his debut season (2017/18) in Spain, Januzaj made a total of 35 appearances for the Basque club, scoring four goals and a further six assists, playing in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Europa League. During the 2018/19 season, Januzaj played just 24 times, scoring twice and assisting four more goals for his club.
In the 2019/20 season, which was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Januzaj seems to be finding his feet and showing some promise. In 29 appearances throughout the season, before and after the coronavirus pandemic, the now 26-year-old has scored eight goals, assisting a further four, playing in La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
The 2020/21 season was the bets of the Belgian’s career so far and it could be the start of something for the winger. He had four goals and four assists in 36 appearances last season. During the 2021/22 Januzaj scored five goals and three assists in 42 appearances. The now 29-year-old left Real Sociedad as a free agent, signing for Sevilla on the 31 August 2022 on a four-year contract.
Januzaj made just six appearances in his first season at Sevilla as his career took a tumble once again. He was loaned out to Turkish Premier League side Istanbul Basaksehir, making 17 appearances and scoring three goals. He returned to Sevilla at the end of the season with an aim to get his career on the right track again, which was going to be tough.
At the start 2023/24 season, Januzaj was not named in Sevilla’s squad for the UEFA Champions League. He has made ten appearances in La Liga and the Copa del Rey this season, assisting one goal. However, his season seems to be defined with him playing a bit part role for the club. It seems a shame that as a youth player with talent at his feet, his career has gone this way.
2024 and beyond may see some changed for Januzaj but it could also see more frustration. A career with so much promise seems to be entering its twilight years with masses of failure behind it. His time at Real Sociedad seems to be the part to be highlighted, although he won the FA Community Shield at United and the Copa del Rey at Real Sociedad – nothing off the charts here.
Different things happen at different times and people react differently. I am glad his career is seemingly picking up. Januzaj was a player that had many high hopes at United but it just did not work out for him at the Old Trafford club. His career peaked on leaving United, but has become stagnant once again. It was a shame but United getting rid of him was the best decision.
Written by John Walker